What are Trappers famous for?

zur deutschen VersionYou might have asked yourself already, why I selected “TrapperPhD” as my online nickname?

The story behind TrapperPhD …

To make a long story short … during my university time my nickname was “Trapper” (honestly spoken, one out of a couple). And after finishing my doctorate, “Trapper PhD” was a logical consecutive consequence … but also a tribute to “Trapper John, M.D.”, a famous TV series in the 80s of the last century (when I grew up, “those times long ago”).

Last not least, I like this name because I like the qualities, trappers stand for.

What trappers are famous for …

  • they are successfully using and sharing knowledge of at least two worlds
  • they make the best of slender resources and possibilities
  • they are pragmatic and often need to flexibly adapt to changing conditions
  • they are real businessmen (entrepreneurs) not just managers
  • they start well-founded changes only
  • they are lean for good reasons
  • they are results-driven
  • they do not give up, but also know when to stop … for them vitality management is essential
  • they are palmy in operating independent as well as part of a team
  • they love nature (OK, they have no choice, but take it as a romantic presumption)
  • they can make fire without an iPone app
  • they can communicate without a Blackberry
  • they make it to stay in touch with friends over great distances … without Facebook
  • they depend on optimism
  • and … for them, results are more important than good looking

Better chat without chat

From time to time, the team I proudly belong to does some customer surveys to optimize our inhouse services. One request we consistently get is the need for a live online chat as extension of our customer support portfolio.

This is an understandable wish, as the advantages of live support and communication by live chat are evident.

  • Individual – you have live communication with a human being, not with an anonymous system
  • Realtime – you get a quick answer at the time you have the issue
  • Guidance – more complex issues can be solved step-by-step
  • Communication best practice – this is real life knowledge sharing at its best

Time for a testimony. Dear reader, I apologize if you are one of the sufferers and ask to kindly not take it personally, but to very honest … I usually switch the preinstalled text chat tools off. Why? Because they are just unefficient and get on my nerves. When it rains, but it pours. And on top of that this tiny little text chat window pops up with messages like “just to say hello” or “what are you doing?”

There is one more fancy attitude of text chatters. “May I call you?” … …. …. Come on!!! Maybe I am utterly daft, but …

  • If you want to call me, why don’t you just do it?
  • If you are afraid for possibly disturbing me, why do you let an annoying chat box pop up on my screen?
  • Isn’t this like asking “may I disturb you” while you have done it alreay by speaking it out?

To me a text chat window appears much more offensive than a phone call would ever do. I like people, and hearing someones voice is much less annoying than dry text messages on the screen. (at least for most voices) And I am always free to not pick up the phone in case it does not suit me … with a chat tool I do not really have this choice as the tool always shows that I am there. This suggests that I am available, and puts some mean subliminal pressure on me not to decline. So, in case you would like to call me. Just do it, please! I will either answer the phone, or call back ASAP.

Yes, I am live available already at any time … by phone. Aaaahh… phone! Dear generation-Y-timers, this old-fashioned voice-thing, you remember? I can be reached by phone as easy as by text chat. But no one ever would call me during working time and asking “what are you doing at the moment?” OK, perhaps my boss could legitimately. But even he does not, because he knows that wasting my time is neither in mine nor in his interest.

With phones people chat live since ages just by simply talking to each other. Well, let’s have a look at the core features of phone communication …

  • Individual – you have live communication with a human being, not with an anonymous system
  • Realtime – you get a quick answer at the time you have the issue
  • Guidance – more complex issues can be solved step-by-step
  • Communication best practice – this is real life knowledge sharing at its best

Weird … somehow having a déjà-vu feeling …

Heavily looks like that phone does already what chat claims to provide. So, is chat a redundant functionality? To my opinion it is even worse. Chat does not offer a dispensible functionality only, it offers even less functionality as phone at lower efficiency resulting in lower productivity.

Only about 60% of chat requests I myself get at work do have a work-related objective and result in a solved task, compared to 95% finally productive phone calls. And the average attentiveness a text chat conversation needs for me is estimated in the range of 12-15 minutes, compared to average 5-6 minutes for a support phone call regarding a similar issue. I found some posts in German newsgroups on real life experienced duration of (business-service) chats and phone calls. They confirmed a strong tendency for text chats to take longer (at least doubled on average). This loss of time is inevitable as typing a text certainly takes longer than saying it. Plus the time it takes for submitting and displaying the message on the other side. More than that, our human brain is able to digest and work with a message while we hear it already. With chat you have to wait for the message to be finished, then it is transmitted, and then you start to read (and think). Phone is true interactive discussion. Text chat is playing Ping-Pong.

But with phone you cannot do such fancy and auxiliary things like file and desktop sharing, I can already hear you say. Sure you can do those things with phone communication! Even better! As both hands are free for working with files and desktop (esp. when you are working with loudspeaker or a headset). Very similar to working with Skype1 e.g. (see below). And by the way, yes, you can do “conference calls” with a phone.

Let’s directly compare live text chat with live phone …

Text Chat Voice Phone
Functions text chat, live communication, short-term, individual guidance voice2voice, live communication, short-term, individual guidance
Auxiliaries conference (tool dependent), file sharing (tool dependent), desktop sharing (tools dependent) conference, file sharing (with add. tool), desktop sharing (with add. tool)
Productively works on …
  • Blackberry,
  • smartphone with QWERTZ
  •  iPad/iPhone with Bluetooth QWERTZ
  • PC, Apple, …
  • Laptop, Netbook
  • Blackberry
  • smartphone
  • iPad/iPhone
  • PC, Apple, …
    (with Sykpe e.g.)
  • Laptop, Netbook
    (with Sykpe e.g.)
  • mobile phone
  • landline phone
Connection via …
  • cable network
  • wireless network
  • landline phone
  • cell phone
  • cable network
  • wireless network
Communication efficiency
(range = 1* (snailmail) to 6* (interactive talk))
  • 3*
  • easy
  • limited to text input
  • Ping-Pong-communication
  • 5*
  • easy and efficient
  • true interactive real-time communication
  • closest to personal talk
Productivity factor
(range = 1* to 6*, values based on individual, non-generalizable data)
  • 3*
  • 60% of sessions work-related
  • 10-15 minutes average session duration
  • 80% success rate
  • quick connect, time loss by typing input and waiting lags, constricted input via keyboard/mouse/QWERTZ
  • 5*
  • 95% of sessions work-related
  • 5-6 minutes average session duration
  • 95% success rate
  • quick connect, interactive support, need for an additional tool for file/desktop share
 (based on the Swiss industry average personnel costs per hour = € 37.05 (2009 data 1))

calculatory productivity factor = x / %-work-related / %-success-rate

  • € 7.70 per support chat (~5 support chats possible per hour)
  • € 16.00 per support chat incl. productivity factor
  • plus internet connection fees depending on device used and individual contracts
  • plus optional license costs for applications or application services
  • no setup/device costs as device generally present
  • € 3.40 per support phone call (~11 support calls possible per hour)
  • € 3.80 per support phone call incl. productivity factor
  • plus phone and/or internet connection fees depending on device used and individual contracts
  • plus optional license costs for auxiliary applications or auxiliary application services
  • no setup/device costs as device generally present

Too much biased to your taste? Well, sorry, the facts just speak for themselves. As a logical consequence of these facts I clearly need to stick to the phone.

But there is an auspicious eye. As I am strong advocate of multi-channel strategies, I have no issue with redundancy. Each of us should use the channel he personally prefers, even if it might be text chat and even if it might be less efficient. But also be still open for the channels other prefer!

So, even I will start to occasionally switch my chat tools on for internal customer support. Because I want to be were our customers are. This is no inconsequence, this is customer-oriented behaviour and tool-independent knowledge culture. But I will feel free to also share the knowledge how people on the other hand can reach me best.

So, I tell clients asking for a live chat support: “No matter! … I have a live chat tool in place already where you can always instantly reach me!
I call it phone.”

Do you also favour phone over text chat?
Or quite the contrary?
If you really prefer text chat, tell me why and try to convince me!

1 Comment: Skype is another story. In this post’s context it simplified fits to the phone category. But unfortunately in some companies blocked for dubious security reasons.

2 http://www.slideshare.net/napresseportal/arbeitskosten-international-kein-deutscher-wettbewerbsvorteil

Knowledge Management is the wrong attitude

Does knowledge need to be properly managed?
Will knowledge be increased or improved by managing it?
When I heard about “knowledge management” the first time in the late 90’s, this phrase was mostly used to describe what in my humble opinion was more related to information management. To collect and save pieces of information. And to have tools for proper data mining, so, to re-find previously collected and stored information. Also a honorable mission … but no true knowledge management. And a mission that is also still not finally accomplished. Sure, things have substantially improved, there are better tools and semantic tagging. But we all still suffer from fighting ourselves through exponentially increasing volumes of information day by day.

Then after a while the term “knowledge management” was occupied, misused and spammed by a wide range of software vendors. Even elevator control systems claimed to manage knowledge. BTW, quite similar to what still happens to “business intelligence”, … or did you observe a BI-software-related increase in intelligence related to business during the last years? If at all? (but this is another story to be continued somewhere down the blog)

Most knowledge management projects simply failed as knowledge obviously is a matter of human brains, not of IT. To avoid any misunderstanding, IT offers a fantastic range of tools and structures than can support knowledge sharing. And I greatly appreciate that as well as gratefully use those tools. But you just cannot limit knowledge management to IT. A while ago I joined an event with a superior manager, who answered a question on the company’s knowledge strategy with “we soon will have a new CIO and then things will improve”. No surprise than there was absolutely no advancement for years.
In contrast, there was this young entrepreneur who founded a knowledge management consulting business. His strategy was to infiltrate client companies with a team composed of an IT expert (for the supporting hardware/software view), a business consultant (for the financial and business process view), and … a psychologist having the mission to identify gaps and bottlenecks in the internal teamwork and related communication culture. Because knowledge can also be a matter of personal advantage and power. Unfortunately,  at that time the world was not ready for this innovative concept.
Now, during the last few years, communication functionality, social media and learning technologies came more and more into play. They finally shifted the understanding of knowledge management towards the more holistic concept. Knowledge is not managed … but created, communicated, shared. Knowledge is something living, something cultural. And – most important – the mission of knowledge is to be used instead of being stored.
After all, honestly spoken, I am not sure that I want anyone to “manage” my or others knowledge. I would prefer to be part of a living knowledge culture, supported and driven by the management.
In even doubt that knowledge can be managed at all.
What do you think?

Geman Post

Let’s talk about Sex

Journalists are mediators. And they are translators. Take me as an example. It is my job as a scientific journalist to translate scientific contents to the public so that people can understand what things like “cloning” and “genetic engineering” are. And, well, I am trying my best and it truly is an advantage for me to be an educated molecular biologist. I do understand scientific subjects as well as the technical terminology of the biosciences.

But what’s about my non-scientific colleagues? If a standard magazine journalists is in duty to write about – let’s say – Dolly the sheep, does he really have a chance to produce something meaningful? It is even hard for him to understand the details … and we expect a founded judgement. This colleague however is a translator to the public. Like a Chinese-English translator who never learned any Asian language and is working with a 1970 edition of a common dictionary (and avoid asking him for the Chinese signs). Taking this into account, can we really be surprised that the public opinion about biotechnology and gene technology is such bad in Europe.

This also had been a major point at the “Biotech in Europe” session of the recent BIOTECHICA BUSINESS FORUM 2002 in Hanover, Germany. Speakers included Crispin Kirkman (BioIndustry Association, UK), Claude Hennion (France Biotech), Christian Suter (BioValley Basel, Switzerland), Rob Janssen (Netherlands’ Biotech Industry Association) and Hugo Schepens (EuropaBio).

During the discussions Christian Suter mentioned that we are missing true science mediators in Europe. He quantified fruitful cooperations between journalists and scientists as lucky exceptions. And others added that there is a completely different communication culture in North America where scientists don’t worry about sitting in a TV shown and propagating their views to the public.

I do agree. We are really missing true translators and mediators of our contents. Where are the colleagues that are able to help journalists to understand? Dear scientists, journalists desperately need you! Help them to translate. Go out, be present and be the bridges crossing the river between scientific knowledge and the society. In my view many American scientists are highly sensitized regarding their role and duty for public understanding that is the base of public opinion. European scientists are much more afraid of being in the limelight of the media. But – honestly spoken – to my opinion it is part of their (publicly financed) job.

Why do so many European scientists avoid the public? Well, they never learned it. Being a public translator for scientific knowledge is not part of scientific education. Many researchers are just not able to translate.

It is a matter of terms … and a matter of relevance. Let me explain what I do mean with the “matter of relevance”. A true scientist talking about the developments in research will never make an absolute statement, like “Newton’s apple will definitely never go upwards”. He is always qualifying and seeing things in relative terms, even when there is just a hypothetical 0.0001% chance for an alternative event. Perhaps, one day, Newton’s apple may go upwards. It does not matter if this is relevant or not, it always will be a possibility. This basic kind of thinking is a result of the scientific knowledge finding process’ structure, that is driven by thesis and antithesis.

But for the average man or woman this “may be” is a sign of uncertainty, in the worst case interpreted as “there is something in it”. The 0.0001%-event has become a true and relevant option. Now, he is awaiting Newton’s apple to shoot up to the stratosphere, exploding there and finally destroying earth’s ozone shield.

As a conclusion, scientists have to learn to reduce, to focus and to rate various options for relevance. People want clear answers, simple explanations and meaningful statements.

Now, let’s talk about the “matter of terms”. Scientists and non-scientists are often using the same words but do speak different languages. Many scientific terms have a different meaning or an additional interpretation for average persons they have not for a scientist. The result is that both are speaking to each other but there is no true communication.

Take the word “sex” as an example. If a scientist is using the word “sex” he usually is thinking about the gender of the organism he is working with – but most non-scientists at first are thinking about something completely different. Another good example would be the word “glauben” that in the German language is used for “to my opinion” as well as for “to believe”. So if biotech managers “glauben” that gene technology is safe, is it their opinion or is it their believe? But let us focus even more towards “genetic engineering” and “gene technology”. For me the German translation “Gentechnik” has no weight. In my understanding the word stands for a scientific method, a lab application. It is not good or bad, it just is. But for an average German citizen “Gentechnik” has an expanded content, it has a negative meaning, it is a bad word, it is used like talking about devil’s kiss. Now imagine a molecular biologist and a politician having a discussion about gene technology. They are talking together … but finally there is no communication. You can observe it on any programme running on an European TV station.

Where are all these communication and public relation agencies serving the Life Science industries? What have they done during the past years? Well, at least they have lost an important battle. They lost the battle for sovereignty over words. And I suppose that they lost because many of them did not really understand the things they were fighting for.

If you want your public relations work being successful within the fields of Life Science and biotechnology it is much more important compared to any other branch of business that you have an in-depth-knowledge about the contents. Biotechnology and gene technology cannot be treated like others. You really have to understand the technologies you are trying to promote. You really have to know the key words and their true meaning as well as their interpretation by interest groups. And never forget that these words and expressions can have various meanings depending on who is using them!

But where is the way out of the dilemma? Very simple: strike back! Use the words in their true meaning. Use them ‘normalized’. And do not use them only on podium discussions but in your daily live. Speak about biotechnology with your family. Speak about biotechnology with your friends. Speak about biotechnology with your colleagues and business partners. Speak about biotechnology with your children and with their teachers. Speak about biotechnology at your breakfast table and at your barber. Speak about biotechnology with your doctor and with his nurse. Speak about biotechnology as it would be the most normal thing in the world. One day it will be. Win back the sovereignty over words! Now!

Revised version of the article “Let’s talk about Sex”, originally published in December 2002 by Inside-Lifescience, ISSN 1610-0255.

The value of information

Two weeks ago I participated in a strategy workshop organized by Arthur D. Little and the German Ministry for Education and Science (BMBF). As part of our talks we discussed the value of scientific information as well as the existing scientific information distribution and access structures. As two major problems we identified that scientists are not really aware of a variety of information resources they could access, and that publication and valuation processes will intensively change within the next years.

To provide you with the corresponding background: the BMBF commissioned the management consultant Arthur D. Little and the ‘Gesellschaft für Innovationsforschung und Beratung’ to analyse the German WTI system (“wissenschaftlich-technische Information”) and to develop a strategy concept for the future of scientific and technical information. This study will be the basis of the future German federal government policy regarding specialist information. In a first step the consultants did a survey targeting 10.000 scientists working at universities or non-academic research institutions as well as 10.000 industry and service companies with an extensive use of information. In a second step the results and early recommendations are discussed by industry insiders and checked for their practicability. I myself was invited for one of this second level workshops that also included the directors of the three German special information centres, several representatives of university libraries, scientists, and others, overall a group of about 15 information specialists with a focus on scientific information.

Giving you a very personal impression, to my opinion the information providers do not really know their client: the scientist working at the bench. During my time as ‘lab rat’ we did not really miss anything as regards information. We had a nice library, we had the internet, and the first internet databases for literature, sequences, ect. started these days. Additionally there has always been the possibility to ‘clone by phone’ or to get information via direct contacts in labs working at the same questions. Nobody told us about STN and other special information providers. And I think we would not have used it for two reasons: the costs (in the lab you have a regular budget for enzymes and pipette tips . but usually you have no true budget for information) and the missing knowledge regarding the retrieval languages (what student is educated in command languages like messenger, e.g.?).

I am sure that this situation will change. I cannot tell you if this will happen within the next 5 years or within the next 15 years, but societies will learn that information itself has a value. Someone once even said that information is the gold of the 21st century. We already have a development within the western societies that people that have a privileged access to – for example – business information and are able to process it do have an advantage over their competitors. This is also valid for scientific information. But . the overall amount of scientific information is increasing logarithmically and the scientist needs more and more pre-selected information regarding his topics and questions. You cannot read all articles in all journals of your discipline AND do successful bench work. You only have 24 hours a day. And you do not really have the place for the growing stacks of publication copies on your desk (wouldn’t it fit your needs to have access to digitalized copies?!). So far there is public structure that supports the bench scientist with these problems. So, we really have to think about improved information infrastructures for the scientific community.

And we have to find a solution of the bivalent situation that on the one hand the public pays for science (and by this for the resulting scientific information), and on the other hand scientists have to pay for scientific information – respectively they or their libraries already do by their journal subscriptions. Perhaps we have to understand that not only the information but also information processing is worth to be paid, for example if you think about information pre-selection, journalistic ‘digestion’, services that help to be more focussed, and publication providers.

Revised version of the article “The value of information”, originally published in October 2001 by Inside-Lifescience, ISSN 1610-0255.

Going public

Do you remember? Y2K had been announced as the great entry into the millennium of biotechnology! Did you get it?

2000 in biotechnology was planned as the year of the big conferences and meetings as well as the year of the phenomenal announcements. This should have been the grandiose prelude for an international campaign against the technique critics. But did anyone – besides scientists – really pay attention to all the efforts. Honestly: no.

No, because this is how it should be _ or no, because we missed the chance to present our science to the people. If you picked the first “no”, there is nearly no reason to go on reading. But if you think that the scientific community missed a chance, then join my thoughts about how we could better the situation.

Living in Central Europe we still face the situation that most non-scientists adore gene food and associate gene technology with Frankenstein. People will not buy daily products known to content genetically engineered compounds. We do have a really bad public opinion about gene technology. Is the reason for this situation really only ignorance and antagonism against all technological advancement? Or is it possible that the scientists themselves fail to promote their science? Who else should do it?

What biotechnology and gene technology (who are used synonymously in this context) are missing is capital. This capital is coming from confidence. A confidence that results from the knowledge of the opportunities as well as from the hope for a better future. If the people do not rely on our biotechnology enterprise they will not invest any capital in it. That is what we can learn from a going public at the stock exchange. No confidence – no money, no money – no development.

So, colleagues, let’s go public! Let’s use a language that everybody can understand when we talk about the science we love. Talk with the heart and not with the dictionary. Open your ears for the fears. Show the opportunities and advantages of biotechnology. Talk to the people and talk with the people. You are the ambassadors of our science!

Originally published in November 2000 by Inside-Lifescience, ISSN 1610-0255.